Clause 5 - Secretary of State to report on building stock

Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 3 Mawrth 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:00, 3 Mawrth 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in

clause 5, page 5, line 27, at end insert—

'(ca) proposals considered by the Secretary of State during the period for the setting of targets for any of those purposes in relation to—

(i) buildings in England and Wales; or

(ii) services, fittings or equipment provided in or in connection with such buildings;'.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Llafur, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss Promoter's amendments Nos. 8 and 9, and Government amendment No. 20.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

We are now in deeper water. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are designed to ensure that the proposals in the Bill are technically competent, and do not plant any real seeds of controversy. Amendment No. 9 constitutes a response to the criticism that was made of the wording in the Bill on Second Reading and that the Minister and his officials, in the kindest possible way, somewhat reinforced.

The criticism was that there would be significant difficulty in establishing how many buildings there are in the country. I twisted and turned on this one and tried to find a Department somewhere that knew the answer to that apparently simple question, but the fact is that we do not know the answer. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings said that it was odd that we do not have a record of land use, but we are a long way from that. We do not know how many buildings we have, never mind what we use the land for. Unfortunately, my brave attempt at coming up with the right provision, as drafted in the Bill, is not capable of practical implementation for want of that information. The only way to obtain the information would be to introduce something that I understand the hon. Gentleman might be in favour of, which is thorough registration of all land and buildings and proper documentation of that. However, the cost, time and trouble that would be involved in achieving that

would be wholly disproportionate to the intention of the clause, so amendment No. 9 represents my efforts to simplify it.

The Minister will speak shortly to Government amendment No. 20, which will delete the provision on the second of the reports that are called for in the Bill—the report relating to the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. I am bitterly disappointed that that amendment was tabled, but those who heard me speak on Second Reading will understand that I shall not resist it, although I hope to have an opportunity to respond to some of the points that the Minister may make.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman: he has put the point well. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are technical. Amendment No. 7 moves the proposed requirement in clause 5(2)(e) to the list of matters that the report must deal with in clause 5(2), and alters the wording to accord with that in the Building Act 1984. Amendment No. 8 is consequential on that.

Amendment No. 9 is designed to confine the estimate of the numbers of different types of building in clause 5(3) to an estimate of the number of dwellings in England and Wales. That is the only figure that is readily available without a huge and costly exercise to count other types of building. The Government could not justify such an exercise for the purpose of a report to Parliament.

I shall not go through the details now, except to say that reference was made on Second Reading to the possibility of using the DEFRA stock model to provide a figure for other buildings, which we do not count at all, whether they are sheds, garages, electricity substations or whatever. We considered that possibility further, because I talked about it on Second Reading and in relation to the money resolution, but we decided that it could not provide a figure equivalent to that for dwellings. The model is based on hereditaments, not buildings, and any figure derived from it using a modelling process could not be relied on to provide comparisons with the figure for dwellings in order to perform the task that the hon. Gentleman wants to do, which is to monitor the progress of sustainability in the building stock. That is why we cannot proceed with the proposal, as he acknowledges.

On amendment No. 20, the hon. Gentleman is right that we cannot support the requirement in the Bill, and we know that he has worked hard to try to find an acceptable solution. We see no need for clause 5(4) to (6), as the 2000 Act already requires reports on progress from time to time. I understand that DEFRA has undertaken to produce an annual report covering, at least to some degree, the matters mentioned in clause 5(5). I hope that that is of some comfort to him in realising what we can and cannot do.

Subsections (4) to (6) are also defective because they assume that fuel poverty can be eradicated through energy efficiency measures alone. Most of us recognise that, although that plays an important part, it is not

the only measure required. Fuel poverty is at least as dependent on the income of those living in the home and on fuel prices. It would not make sense to report on only one of those factors. Therefore I hope that subsections (4) to (6) will be removed from the Bill, as per my amendment.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning) 11:15, 3 Mawrth 2004

Briefly, on the point of fuel poverty, it is important to point out—I assume that the Minister made an unintentional error—that fuel poverty is about the proportion of income spent on alleviating problems associated with poor heating and ventilation. There is an issue about total income and poverty, and there is a relationship between absolute poverty and fuel poverty, but I do not want the Committee to be deluded into believing that fuel poverty is something that it is not. Fuel poverty is about the proportion of income allocated to heating and ventilating a home.

Although the Minister is not entirely wrong in saying that fuel poverty cannot be solved solely by changes to building, I think that the original intention of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was important in terms of a proper focus on warm homes and on renewed efforts to deal with issues such as insulation and ensuring that buildings are constructed and adapted in a way that maintains the maximum opportunity for warmth. It is important that the Committee does not continue without putting those points on the record.

Incidentally, I acknowledge what the Minister said about the register of housing. There have been two studies of land use—one in the 1930s and the other in the 1960s—which were comprehensive and conducted independently of Government. If there is to be a sensible planning policy, we ought reconsider that subject. I will say no more because now is not the time to debate that.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his words of slight comfort about the annual report from DEFRA. I have seen the reports that have so far been published and they are a long way short of being comprehensive and providing the information that would satisfy Members of Parliament that real progress is being made in relation to the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000. I will continue to press the Minister on the matter and I believe that many members of the Committee who share my concerns will also do so. However, as I indicated, I have already conceded the point and will leave it at that.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 8, in

clause 5, page 5, line 38, leave out from 'materials' to end of line 44.

No. 9, in

clause 5, page 5, line 45, leave out from 'contain' to end of line 2 on page 6 and insert

'an estimate, as at the end of the period, of the number of dwellings in England and Wales.'.—[Mr. Stunell.]

No. 20, in

clause 5, page 6, line 3, leave out subsections (4) to (6).—[Phil Hope.]

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.